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Don’t Get Stereotyped as an “Entitled Millennial” at Work

Millennials get stereotyped as entitled by older generations all the time. This is especially true in the workplace, where boomers and millennials interact on a daily basis. This, of course, isn’t true of all boomers or older workers, but there is a growing sense that millennials are “snowflakes” and cannot be trusted to do the hard work needed to succeed. Many believe millennials feel owed great salaries, lots of vacation and benefits, simply for graduating college. There are entitled millennials out there, but getting thrust in their shadow isn’t fair for millennials who are putting in the effort.

But they promised us jobs if we went to college!?

“Four-in-ten Millennial workers ages 25 to 29 had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2016, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Current Population Survey data.” (Pew Research Center) Affluent parents of millennials are likely to have told their children that they need to go to college to get a good job. Some even told their kids that they would get a good job if they graduated from college. Therefore, it makes sense that after putting in the hard work and piling on the student debt, millennials feel entitled to positions paying more than minimum wage. After all, a college degree shouldn’t be needed for a minimum wage position, right?

Student debt is a huge issue for millennials. As of October 2017, Forbes reported that “At the present time, the average American household with student debt owes about $49,000. Graduates in their twenties spend more than $350 per month, on average, on student loan payments and interest.” Because of this unprecedented level of debt (which you can’t go bankrupt on) millennials need jobs that pay more than minimum wage. When we ask for higher starting salaries and demand more hours to make us full time, we may simply be trying to keep up with our devastating loan payments.

However, it’s important to NOT use pre-existing loans as an argument to get better wages. You must tout your merit in other ways to secure the wage you need and deserve. Simply having gone to college doesn’t guarantee you a job. It’s a hard reality to face, but times have changed since older workers were growing up. According to News Strategist, “Among Older Americans, only 24 percent are college graduates.” Back in “the day,” college graduates were rare, and a diploma was, therefore, worth more according to the law of supply and demand. This is an important distinction to understand, but one that should never be used for negotiation purposes.

But that’s not in my contract and against the law!?

“If they (salaried employees) work 50 hours a week, exempt employees get the same salary as if they work 30. It's usually legal for an employer to require exempt employees to work more than 40 hours.” (Chron) If you’re lucky enough to have a salaried position, you probably have 40 hours written on your payslip. Many older workers pride themselves on working long hours, however. I talk about not being ruled by others’ expectations in 3 Lessons from the Corporate Grind, but it’s important to remember that these assumptions exist. There’s a fine line to walk between fitting in and setting yourself up for failure.

Most of us started or are currently working in hourly positions. Unless you are in the IT business, it’s unlikely that your specific tasks are being tracked by the minute. Many managers will request newer workers to prove themselves by doing unethical and illegal things. Often, this includes working through their lunch breaks and checking emails at home. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employers must pay their employees for all hours worked. This means that your boss asking you to punch out for lunch but continue working is illegal. Being asked to check and respond to emails at home is illegal too. Confronting your boss about these can be uncomfortable, but should still be addressed. Make your concerns known ahead of time to avoid being stereotyped as lazy for not conforming to workplace culture. Hopefully, you can help change it!

But I think we should have a dialogue about it?!

Millennials, especially those who went to liberal arts colleges, are extremely familiar with open communication styles and “dialoguing” with one another. We are used to instantaneous communication as well, which means we are more comfortable with broaching topics immediately. We don’t wait to see each other face to face but instead might bring up uncomfortable topics over email right away. Millennials’ cultural empathy can be misconstrued with a sense of entitlement.

For example, if someone offers a millennial offense by ignoring their questions during a meeting, that millennial is likely to approach that individual afterward. Millennials are used to having their voices heard and aren’t afraid to have difficult conversations. To an older worker who is used to keeping their head down and dealing with a certain amount of disrespect from upper management, this might be seen as entitlement. They might ask themselves “Why should that newbie feel entitled to voice opinions during meetings when I was never allowed to do so at that age? I would never encourage anyone to silence themselves to conform to traditional processes. I would advise that millennials soften their tone and remain respectful of traditional processes and norms, even while disrupting and changing them. Respect is important to give, even to those who you might feel don’t deserve it.

Finally, younger workers tend to speak more informally than older employees. This may be because of social media and easy access to immediate communication, or it may be due to something else. In order to not come off as disrespectful and “entitled” to your position, remember to use respectful language at work. You’ll never be thought poorly of for being respectful, but being overly informal can earn you a bad reputation.

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”
- Bryant H. McGill Tweet: “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” - Bryant H. McGill

Being stereotyped as entitled can easily come about by being disrespectful. Remember that your college degree doesn’t earn you a position that others may have worked towards for years. Confront ethics decisions with an understanding of cultural norms, and remember to give all co-workers the respect they deserve in your choice of language. By showing respect and thinking about your arguments and word choices, you can avoid being stereotyped as entitled at work.

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  1. Well-written and informative! I’ve noticed the differences between millenials and older generations at my place of work, and I can’t agree more with what you said about respect. It makes all the difference in how others perceive you.

    1. Thanks for the read! Respect should be a given, but a reminder here and there can't hurt!

  2. There is no denying that workplace demographics are shifting. There has been a significant amount of focus placed on millennials, as they are expected to assume leadership positions that come with extensive responsibilities very soon. Read more: attracting and engaging self-driven millennial employees.


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